The 416 bridges that cross the network of canals in every point of the city, are different in type, shape and size. Originally, all the bridges were built with wooden planks and were flat in order to allow the passage of chariots and horses.
Later, they were replaced by stone and brick bridges, arch-shaped and with steps. The parapets were added in the mid-1800s, when pedestrian viability increased. Before that, the Venetians used canals as the main way to move around the city.
The Rialto Bridge is the first stone bridge built on the Grand Canal. In the 12th century, it was a bridge of boats joined by wooden planks and was called Ponte della Moneta, in memory of the toll that had to be paid (a quarter of a penny) by ferries to cross. The bridge collapsed due to the overflowing crowd that admired the passage of the procession of the Marquise of Ferrara in 1444, and was built again in wood, but wider, with two rows of shops on the sides and a central drawbridge for the passage of sailboats. In the year 1500 the Senate decided to build it in stone. For the occasion, numerous projects were considered, including those of Michelangelo and Andrea Da Ponte who mixed different ideas and proposals in order to achieve the splendid final result that we can still admire today.
The Bridge of Sighs connects the Doge’s Palace to the “Palazzo delle Prigioni”. Its purpose was to pass the prisoners from the prisons to the magistrates’ rooms, where they were tried. The prisoners walked the bridge to go to face trial and perhaps be sentenced. Tradition says that looking beyond the windows on the bridge, prisoners would sigh as they looked at Venice and at the thought of their sad fate. The prisoner’s sighs is where the bridge gets its name from.
The Devil’s Bridge is an authentically traditional bridge, because it was completely devoid of parapets as were all bridges of Venice until the mid-1800s. The Chiodo bridge can be found in the Fondamenta di S. Felice in Cannaregio and the Diavolo bridge is located on the Island of Torcello, one of the most poetic and characteristic sites of the Lagoon.